Not all rescues are created equal

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May
13

The inspiration to start Paws for Hope was driven by the desire to create a more sustainable and professional animal welfare system. It has only been four years since we figuratively opened our doors, and while we have learned so much, we are keenly aware there is still so much to learn. Much of what we have learned has been through relationships and partnerships with rescue organizations across the province. Over the past four years, we have witnessed incredible work by dedicated organizations tirelessly saving the lives of, and advocating for, animals across the province. But we have also seen the dark side to a system in desperate need of financial support and over site.

Over the years, I have written a handful of posts that speak to the structural and systemic flaws of the animal welfare system that have created a fractured, unregulated, unaccountable, and underfunded environment. I have argued that we are a fragmented entity, that despite similar goals, are often inhibited in the development of valuable partnerships and alliances.

The result of this fragmentation is due to many factors.

Domestic pets are the only living creatures that do not have governing bodies regulating their welfare. All levels of government have abdicated their responsibility for the welfare of animals to the community. With no provincial or federal funding to support the protection and well-being of animals, the responsibility lies upon individuals to organize themselves to respond. Not only are animal welfare and rescue organizations expected to sustain their operations without financial support from our governments, they also operate without any formal regulations and accountability. This includes the BCSPCA, the only organization in the province with the legal authority to conduct cruelty investigations and remove animals from people’s homes. And while the provincial government has granted this ominous power to an external organization, they have done so without providing any financial support or requiring any form of accountability.

This has created a system where individuals and organizations ‘police themselves’ and in extreme cases, take matters into their own hands. Without a doubt, with no formal system of regulations in place to which organizations must abide to and no mechanism to address complaints, people will fight among one another. There are no criteria in place that rescue organizations must meet in order to conduct this life saving work. Further, the inconsistency and diversity of municipal bylaws creates additional chaos. Municipal shelter policies and protocol are established within the confines of each city limit and are no doubt impacted by budget and knowledge constraints. From one city to the next, the quality of care and control of animals varies greatly. Whether an animal surrendered to a shelter is given a second chance at life can depend on which city and shelter that animal is surrendered or abandoned. Whether a Pit Bull type dog is faced with arbitrary restrictions on its movements and freedoms, whether feral cats and rabbits are captured, neutered/spayed and released, and whether you can purchase a puppy in a pet store, again, depends on the city.

Just as there are no requirements an organization must meet to rescue animals, there are no restrictions of where these animals come from.

One of the consequences of this is an explosion of groups and individuals appearing in the rescue community who are importing dogs en mass from outside of Canada. In the past two years the number of groups doing this rescue importing has doubled from approximately 40 in 2013 to over 80 in 2015. When we first spoke out against mass import rescue, it was to raise awareness that BC has a homeless dog crisis and our efforts should focus on saving the many forgotten dogs in northern and remote communities. Since then, additional pressing issues have surfaced that are cause for concern.

I often compare animal welfare/rescue to the Wild West. Anyone can set up shop, do as they please, and walk away when they feel like it. There is simply nothing in place that requires them to do anymore. As a result of the unregulated transport of dogs en mass across the border, they are bringing in diseases and parasites not typically seen in BC. In addition, many of these groups boast about the high volume of dogs the have been able to rescue, and these large scale rescues make great headlines for the media. But what the general public does not see, is the high percentage of dogs who end up in a local shelter or on Craigslist because the group did not do proper assessments, home and/or health checks or provide any follow up support. In fact, often when the new family does reach out for help, it is not uncommon that their calls go unanswered. What the public does not see is the desperate emails sent to other, more established, rescue organizations from these families who need help and have no where to turn.

And it is not just import rescues that have let animals down. Individuals with the best of intentions to rescue local animals have got in over their head and closed their doors overnight, leaving the animals currently placed in foster homes now the responsibility of the families who offered to helped. These families now bare the financial burden of caring for the animals who were meant to be living in their homes only temporarily. It is not uncommon for an animal in foster care to require medical attention before it can be adopted and if the rescue responsible for this care dissolves without providing any form of support a tremendous burden has now been placed on a family or individual who had generously signed up to provide a safe and loving home to an animal in need.

Zeus is one such dog. He needs expensive ACL surgery. Zeus also has hip displasia and will likely require pain medication his entire life.

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Two fundraising campaigns have been set up in attempts to raise funds. A GoFundMe page and a Pet FundRazr, but efforts to raise money for his surgery have not been overly successful, and until funds can be raised, this 18 month Labrador remains in pain and limited in his movements.

This is a difficult issue to bring to the public’s attention as it runs the risk of people assuming all rescue organizations operate precarious operations, which cannot be further from the truth. Not all rescues are created equal, and with no systems of over site or accountability and no established criteria required for organizations to follow there is nothing at first glance that necessarily sets the well established and responsible organizations apart. But there are many organizations across the province doing this life saving work in a organized and strategic manner. These organizations have a critical role in our animal welfare and rescue system, and many work closely with municipal shelters and the BCSPCA to ensure animals in need get the best opportunity possible at a second chance. And it is actually pretty simple to tell if an organization is operating in a responsible and ethical way. No Puppy Mills Canada provides a set of guidelines to help us. It is these guidelines that we have set out as criteria organizations must meet to received our Guardian Angel funding.

We are so grateful to all those dedicated to the rescue and welfare of animals. We will continue our efforts to advocate for systemic changes and look to the community to support the shelters and organizations across the province doing such critical work. As we look to finally develop a rescue program within our organization, we look to our established partners for mentorship.

We will continue to seek alliances and partnerships as we are better together.

Kathy Powelson
Founder & Executive Director
Paws for Hope Animal Foundation

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